Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Presidents I've seen

Because of some of the accusations that have been made as comments to this post, I’d like to briefly characterize the various presidents who’ve been in power since I was alive as I remember them.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: to someone who was 6 1/2 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, FDR and Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion, were eternal. It seems that one would go on being President forever and the other would be the world heavyweight champion forever, back when the title meant something. Because my parents, my dad for sure, probably voted for Landon, Wilkie and Dewey, FDR was just accepted and his programs put down. I probably cheered for Dewey in grade school although I don’t remember. Historically, I think FDR did well.

Harry S. Truman: probably the most underrated President in U.S. history. He kept the sign “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk and he meant it. He made the choice, for good or ill, to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. I had two uncles who may have survived WWII because he did. He and George Marshall, his secretary of state, created the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe. He had the courage of his convictions to step on union bosses even though unions were part of his political base. He had the courage to fire a popular general who would have plunged us into another world war.

Dwight Eisenhower: a man for the times and the first President I voted for. Placid in many ways, it seemed as if the presidency was his reward for his Crusade in Europe. He kept the lid on a nation that was boiling underneath and would erupt in the terms of his immediate successors. He was actually the first “Teflon” President even though Teflon hadn’t been invented yet. He survived the 10%ers and the scandals that involved Nixon and his dog, Checkers. A competent man with a quiet solidity that helped keep the U.S. together after school desegregation.

John F. Kennedy: charisma without end. He seemed the king of Camelot and I have to admit I didn’t vote for him. He led us through the crisis of the Bay of Pigs, which he inherited, he kept our profile low in Vietnam and he got us through the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had great hopes for domestic improvements but had gotten little movement through Congress before he was killed. But he stirred this country back into life after the somnolence of the 50s and led us into space which has led, by a chain of events, to the Internet.

Lyndon B. Johnson: the consummate politician. The man who created the idea of guns and butter and who put the U.S. fully into the Vietnam War. Yet he also managed to pass the Civil Rights Act and a number of other human-based programs to help the disadvantaged in our society. His thumbprint is all over many program we still discuss.

Richard Nixon: the haunted man. He called for peace with honor which extended the Vietnam war until he found a way to get it. A man who chose as his vice president a man who had acted improperly and was forced to resign—Spiro Agnew of the “effete eastern liberals.” A man who wanted power. The first president to resign and who should have been impeached for his efforts to undermine the Constitution to retain power. Yet, he was also probably the only president who, with his House UnAmerican Activities Committee background, could have opened up China.

Gerald Ford, a president who was never elected to the high offices he held. He was named vice president after Agnew resigned and became President when Nixon resigned. The joke with Ford, after he stumbled coming down the steps of Air Force 1, was that he couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time. Yet he did a good job in an impossible situation.

Jimmy Carter: One of the two smartest Presidents we’ve had, a nuclear engineer, but with two strong an image of coming in from the outside to make over Washington, D.C., and wasn’t up to the task. He also got caught in the upheavals of the middle east, including an oil crisis with gasoline shortages in this country. A moral man and probably the best ex-president we’ve ever had.

Ronald Reagan: The first time I saw him on television, I asked, “Who did his makeup? The head makeup man at Forest Lawn (the stars cemetery in Hollywood)? He had mental problems right from the start since he could never seem to tell that the “true” stories he told were from old movie scripts. As a former movie actor but never a star, he had the power to capture an audience and convince them that right was wrong and vice versa. He also had funny ideas on economics and religion and there were times when some of us wondered if would take us to Armageddon because of his beliefs. His wife also looked to astrologers for advice. But Reagan’s biggest fault was that he shifted the direction of the United States until it became the selfishness of the “me” generation which, in my humble opinion, led directly to the Enron crisis and similar events.

George Bush I: pretty much a nonentity except for defending Kuwait against the Iraqis, but he did a fair job in handling the mess he inherited from his predecessor but not well enough that he was reelected with two opponents, including one who was pressing the populist button loudly, Ross Perot, and almost created a third major party. George I was smart enough not to invade Baghdad and upset the Middle East despite the efforts of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz who were already thinking about the New American Century.

Bill Clinton, probably the warmest, most personable presidents I’ve seen and one of the few I saw in person, probably the reason he was so hated by the right. One of the two most intelligent men to hold the office but handicapped by taking advantage of the sexual offers made to any man in his position. He was too much of a centrist to make a strong, lasting mark on the nation, except for becoming the man the Republicans love to hate.

George Bush II, a weak man who compensates by taking a position and standing by it without change. Easily swayed by people he trusts and convinced by some of his handlers to invade Iraq. His instincts were good up to a point in Afghanistan but backfired when he was persuaded to invade Iraq without finishing the job on Al Qaeda. His achilles heel is a his strong religious conviction that makes him determine that there is only one way to handle a problem. When he does realize his mistakes, he changes his mind and goes to the U.N. or to Europe and asks for help, or he spends into major deficit or he cuts back on promises he made to fund education.


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